Exploring the 'City of Oh!'Biscuits, burgers, beer, dinosaurs and, yes, even Rodin …
Welcome to Raleigh, North Carolina, the leafy Southern capital that has been nicknamed the "City of Oaks" because of the thick trunks that line its streets. But after you've spent a day leaving your footprints on Raleigh's sidewalks, you might rechristen it the "City of Oh!," as in, "Oh! I never expected to see Rodin in Raleigh!" or "Oh! I still wish I'd put that last biscuit in my purse!"
Your itinerary can be stacked as high as a plate of pancakes at Big Ed's City Market, which is an essential first stop during any visit to the 919 area code. You'll get the kind of breakfast that your mom used to serve you, assuming your mom was Aunt Bee, and their homemade sawmill gravy, baseball-size biscuits and baked apples will remind you why normal people still crave carbs. There is a real Big Ed, by the way, a man named Ed Watkins, who says that some of his menu items came from his great-granddaddy's recipe book, which features Southern staples served up during the Civil War (just don't remind them that they lost).
From there, you'll go to the North Carolina Museum of Art, a newly expanded complex that houses over 40 galleries and exhibits and a must-visit sculpture garden lined with 30 Rodin sculptures. The permanent collection includes a wealth of work by Italian artists and is considered to be one of the country's most impressive. Previous special exhibitions have included the renowned "Rembrandt in America" and "American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell," while the calendar for 2012 includes the work of "Scream"-master Edvard Munch and "Visual Feast: Masterpieces of Still Life From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston."
After getting your art on, the next stop will be the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which boasts a brand-new Nature Research Center that has a 10,000-gallon aquarium on the bottom floor and allows visitors to watch real-life scientists perform experiments and conduct research for a wide range of studies.
The museum itself is the largest of its kind in the Southeast and includes permanent exhibits that cover everything from whales on the North Carolina coast to a life-size replica of an Acrocanthosaurus, "The Terror of the South," a toothy dinosaur that stood almost as tall as Tyrannosaurus rex. Later this year, the museum will host "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," a one-of-a-kind collection of personal effects and items recovered from the ship.
From there, you're within a crosswalk or two of the North Carolina State Capitol building, not to mention the Marbles Kids Museum if you're with the family, or a row of bar stools at the Raleigh Times Bar if you're not. The Raleigh Times Bar is located inside a 100-year-old former newspaper building, the home of the (wait for it … wait for it) Raleigh Times, which stopped staining residents' fingers with newsprint in 1989. With two overstuffed beer menus and downright legendary burgers, it's the perfect place to take a load off and plan what you're going to do next.
Considering you've barely explored two of Raleigh's five unique districts so far, that plan will ideally be along the lines of, "Oh! We'd better see what's happening on the other side of town!"